Just Teach One

Digital Enhancements

Jonathan Beecher Field
Clemson University

I taught the Columbian Magazine issue at the end of a semester where I was trying out a lot of new things on the syllabus. (more…)

Heterogenity and United States Public Formation

Michael Ditmore

Pepperdine University

I sandwiched Columbian Magazine into an upper-division survey of eighteenth-century American literature, 1730-1830 (“The Great Awakening to Rip Van Winkle and Nat Turner”), between Crevecoeur and Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason/Thomas Jefferson’s Bible(s); we devoted a week to the magazine.

Truth to tell, as much as I admire the Just Teach One project, virtually every text, with the possible exception of Franklin’s Autobiography, felt like a “neglected” text. The Contrast? Letters from an American Farmer? The Coquette? Wieland? The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon? As familiar as these are to scholars-teachers, for my well-read undergrads, not so much. They knew some titles from earlier surveys; they’d read an excerpt or two; but otherwise, there was little-to-less-than-little familiarity. I can’t say they were ready to appreciate a “neglected” early American text. Please don’t misunderstand; I had a very sharp group of undergrads, but they didn’t enter with a built-in background for early American culture.

The Columbian definitely proved to be a rewarding challenge. (more…)

The Columbian Magazine and Genre

Michelle Burnham

Santa Clara University

“Introduction to Literary History and Interpretation” is one of three foundation courses for the English major at Santa Clara University, and as such is probably a less than ideal pedagogical context in which to ask students to read and talk about the November 1786 issue of The Columbian Magazine. Indeed, the first thing I learned after assigning this material to my undergraduate students is that they don’t read magazines. I discovered this when I asked them to compare this eighteenth-century example to more contemporary and familiar ones­­­. (more…)

The Pleasures and Peculiarities of Teaching the Early American Periodical

Adam Lewis
Boston College

I taught the November 1786 issue of the Columbian Magazine about a third of the way through my American literature survey course this past fall.  Coming in between Franklin’s Autobiography and Hannah Webster Foster’s The Coquette, my thinking was the periodical would provide an opportunity to consider and compare different literary forms of the early national period—life writing, the magazine, the novel.  Given the significance of transatlantic periodical culture in Franklin’s text, including his early efforts to imitate from the Spectator and his competition with Andrew Bradford to publish the first magazine in British North America, it seemed the Columbian Magazine would give students a feel for a genre so important to Franklin and his contemporaries.  While I have encountered some resistance to assigning more ephemeral and obscure material in previous courses, I also hoped Franklin’s “validation” of the magazine form would make them more willing to engage it.  Moreover, students almost always respond favorably to The Coquette, and the multiplicity of voices in Foster’s epistolary seduction novel shares a resemblance to the arrangement of different material in magazines of the time.  Indeed, as Jared Gardner argues in the introduction of The Rise and Fall of Early American Magazine Culture, placing Foster in the role of editor over that of author provides new ways of approaching the novel in relation to early national periodical culture.

Students responded to the Columbian Magazine with interest and seemed to grasp some of the connections among readings I hoped they would.  Rather than assign the entire issue, I required students to read particular selections—“Descriptions of  BONES, &c.,” “An Account of…Pennsylvania,” “Perrin and Lucetta, or Rural Probity,” and the short poem “An INDIAN ECLOGUE.”  In addition, they had to read one more selection of their choice that they would share with the rest of the class.  The article on the mastodon bones provided an opportunity to discuss both the enlightenment assumptions and nationalist claims underpinning the descriptions.  In other selections students identified distinctions between urban and rural settings, particularly the idealization of farming and village life in both Benjamin Rush’s history of Pennsylvania and “Perrin and Lucetta.”

While the wide variety of material made it challenging to discuss it all in one class meeting, it did offer a chance for students to share what they found compelling (or confounding) from the issue.  Gardner’s linking of the periodical form of the political form of the new nation through the motto “E pluribus unum” in the introduction he prepared for the issue was intriguing for many students.  They found it a convincing way to understand the seemingly random collection of articles in the magazine.  As someone researching and writing about American periodicals, I was excited to have this opportunity to incorporate it into my teaching and will likely continue to use this JTO text in future classes.

A Literary Lab: Exploring the Columbian Magazine

Keri Holt

Utah State University

I introduced The Columbian Magazine to my students at the end of a survey course on Early American literature. We had just wrapped up the final unit, which focused on the literary culture of the early United States, covering canonical classics such as Franklin’s Autobiography, Charlotte Temple, and The Contrast. By that point, my students were tired, stressed out, and ready to be finished with all things “early American.” I was tired too and a little bit apprehensive moving on to The Columbian Magazine, which was a text I’d never taught before. I was also curious about how much my students had actually learned in our last unit. There is so much political and social history to cover in order to provide context for reading works like Charlotte Temple and The Contrast, and I was worried I’d spent too much time lecturing during the past few weeks, rather than providing my students with opportunities to engage with the material in more active or curious terms.

The Columbian Magazine was the perfect way to wrap up the course. (more…)

Exploring Editorial Work

Siân Silyn Roberts

Queens College, CUNY

Producing an edition of the Columbian Magazine for JTO was a gamble that, in my opinion, really paid off.  This reading elicited some truly outstanding, creative insight from my students, and they responded so well to the questions the magazine invited.  This was definitely my favorite JTO assignment yet!  Part of its success, I think, lay in that fact that I changed the pedagogical aims of the assignment from previous readings.  In the past, I’ve included JTO readings to augment specific literary-critical sections of a syllabus (St. Herbert in a section on the captivity narrative and the gothic, for example, or Amelia; Or, The Faithless Briton as part of the sentimental tradition). This semester, where I taught an upper division elective on literary nationalism in early America, the Columbian Magazine seemed to offer a somewhat different opportunity.  I used this project to reflect more generally on the critical stakes of recovery itself, and to ask students to think about the construction of an archive and the politics of canonization.  Since most of my students are often unfamiliar with early American literature before they take a course on it, I decided to place that unfamiliarity center stage by making the JTO project and its aims an integral part of the syllabus. (more…)

Just Teach One (Take Two): St Herbert, Literary Value, and the Undergraduate Survey

Jon Blandford

Bellarmine University

Teaching an undergraduate survey course like I do every fall presents a couple of challenges.  For one, there’s the problem of what to include.  I’m the only one in a relatively small department of eight full-time faculty who specializes in American literature prior to the Civil War, and, unless our majors elect to take one of my 400-level courses, the required survey represents their primary exposure to texts and authors from that period.  As a consequence, I feel a responsibility both to cover canonical figures and works by lesser-known authors, especially women and writers of color less familiar to students from high school curricula.  A second and related challenge involves helping my students to understand why anyone would want to devote sixteen weeks to studying early American literature in the first place.  Although most of my students are too polite to pose that question, I sometimes get the impression that, to paraphrase one of my colleagues, they regard difficult historical texts as “literary spinach,” as something that’s good for them because that’s what they’ve always been told. (more…)

Stolen Lives

Siân Silyn Roberts

Queens College, CUNY


First off, many thanks indeed to Duncan and Ed for preparing this edition of St. Herbert. My students were very intrigued by the idea of being part of the Just Teach One project, and we had a lively, interesting discussion about the text, thanks to Duncan and Ed’s edition.  I’m really grateful to my students for their very generous engagement with St. Herbert – they were really enthusiastic in their approach to a text that, as I had cautioned, was all but unknown in college classrooms.

I placed the novella in a course for upper seniors called Stolen Lives: Kidnapping and Captivity in American Literature and Culture, in a section on gothic captivity.  Initially, I thought this placement might be a bit of a stretch, but it ended up working extremely well in a course on the captivity narrative.  So our discussion was largely framed around the text’s repurposing of the cultural materials of the gothic and captivity.  What follows are some of the highlights of our discussion: (more…)

Into the Woods

Maria A. Windell

University of Colorado, Boulder

The call for this edition of the “Just Teach One” series went out as I was finalizing an “American Novel” syllabus, which was set to open with Charlotte Temple, Wieland, and The Last of the Mohicans. There was nothing too shocking in this framing, which would ask students to think about genre and the tensions between nation’s matriarchal and patriarchal founding literary narratives. But the “Just Teach One” text St. Herbert, A Tale sounded like a perfect bridge from Rowson to Brown and Cooper: a gothic-sentimental novella with an isolated sylvan setting, about “generational tensions surrounding the issue of companionate marriage,” and featuring “an extended portrait of an elderly Cayuga man likely modeled on Logan”? Yes, please! My intention was to use the novella to link questions of sentiment, consent, and companionate marriage to the nation’s gothic (and) American Indian landscapes. (more…)

What We Can Learn from Old Books

Julie Voss

Lenoir-Rhyne University

I included St. Herbert in an undergraduate course entitled “Early American Literature,” which spans from the Colonial period to 1820 (though, in this semester, we didn’t read anything later than 1800).  We read St. Herbert at the end of the semester, after a sampling of Colonial and Early National texts and, particularly, after three other novels: The Power of Sympathy, Charlotte Temple, and Wieland.  I placed the text on the syllabus before reading it myself, and I committed my class to offering a presentation related to the novella for our university convocation program.

In our initial discussion of St. Herbert, my students wondered what we were going to do with this text.  (more…)

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